16 December 2012

The Next Big Thing

I have been tagged in the Next Big Thing blog meme by the lovely Charlotte Strong. It's been doing the rounds for a while now and it's been interesting to read other people's responses (some of which I've linked to at the bottom of this post).
I hadn't really considered it getting to me. I feel quite touched but also a little daunted as this suggests other people are taking me seriously. Maybe that means I should start taking myself seriously?

I should clarify that in my case 'next' is probably misleading as I've not yet finished a novel length story. I've had a few on the go at various times over the last several years. For the purposes of this meme I'm going to talk about the story I've done the most work on.
So, watch me dodge questions like a politician faced with a microphone.

What is the working title of your next book?
Away with the Fairies
This is very much a working title. I'm not good at titles and have enough trouble coming up with them for completed short stories.

Where did the idea come from for the book?
I first dreamt about Auresimma in 2004 (I remember because I was doing exams at the time). There were 2 posh people looking at a painting of her and gossiping about her having an affair. I quickly had the idea of a murder mystery in a big country house, but with magic and fairies. I like the haughty, squabbling fairy royals in A Midsummer Night's Dream and had read a few books with these kind of fairies in (I've subsequently read more).

What genre does your book fall under?
I'm not sure if it'd count as historical since it's set in the 1950s and people can still remember that.

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
Hmm... don't usually picture characters in terms of actors, but I've done a little thinking and online research.

Katie McGrath (from Merlin) suits Auresimma's colouration. Though I've not watched Merlin in a few years, so I can't speak to her acting abilities.

James Wilby could be Lord Michael, in fact now that I think about it he's perfect (though it took a bit of googling for me to remember his real name). He definitely has the right look and has done period, aristocratic and fatherly roles.

Lady Clara (Lord Michael's wife) could be played by Imelda Staunton.

There are quite a few other characters I could try and cast; I'd need some aristocratic-looking fellas in their 20s and a young mixed-race woman. However I think that trying to do any more would mean me trawling through pictures of actors on Google Image for hours.
I'm not sure about the Fairy characters, it's probably best if I don't picture them as humans. They'd have to be played by tall, slim folk who could look a bit unearthly.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
A house party attended by Elven royalty and English aristocracy is interrupted by murder, the guests are spirited away to a magical land as the family are drawn into a conspiracy that spans two very different worlds.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
I'd prefer representation & traditional publishing as I have more understanding of that model and those are the books I usually read more of. Of course times they are a-changing and I guess I'll see.
I mean this is quite a while in the future as I have to finish the thing first. Which leads us nicely to...

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
It's a good question, I wish I knew.
Since the initial idea I've written 3 partial first drafts, in between writing other stories and a few major life events. Each time I've realised that I need a major change; like losing a crowd of pointless secondary characters, or changing the starting point, or (most recently) changing the ethnicity of a character meaning I need to do a lot more research.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Another good question that I feel unequipped to answer.
I suppose the story could be compared to any book where the mundane -or even repressive- in human society is brought into contact with the chaos and wonder of magic.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?
I've already mentioned A Midsummer Night's Dream, and I think Stardust by Neil Gaiman was an early influence with the fairy stuff.
The BBC4 documentary Consenting Adults, about the Wolfenden Committee and attitudes to homosexuality in the 1950s, was also something of an inspiration, especially when approaching the character of Farrington.

What else about the book might pique the reader's interest?
There's murder and magic, fairies and intrigue, hidden identities and family secrets.
There's also posh English people and the 1950s, both of which seem to be popular at the moment.

Now I'm supposed to tag 5 people to carry on the meme. However I'm not going to tag anyone as I'm pretty certain everyone I would normally tag has done (or been offered/tagged in) this meme already. So here are links to posts that have already been written. It's better this way because you get 11 and they're available right now.

Adrian Faulkner - whose talk of rewrites I found very reassuring
Andrew Reid
Anne Lyle
Colin F. Barnes 
Charlotte Strong - who tagged me in her post
Emma Jane Davies - who was tagged alongside me
Fran Terminiello
Jennifer Williams
Karen Davies
Mhairi Simpson
Ren Warom

5 December 2012

Where Silence has Lease

Episode: s2, ep2
I think this episode is meant to show how great Picard is and how he doesn't back down in the face of difficult decisions, unfortunately it doesn't have much thought put into it.

What Happens
The Enterprise encounters a mysterious space-hole of unknown properties. Picard stops to investigate and the whatever-it-is envelops the ship. There is no way out, and attempts to navigate suggest that the space is curved somehow as the ship goes forward yet returns to the same spot. Various weird things happen: a cloaked ship attacks and is destroyed leaving no debris; a Federation ship appears but won't respond to hails.
Riker and Worf beam aboard the mysterious Federation ship. There are two identical, adjacent bridges, until a trippy moment when they discover that both bridges are in fact one and the same because space is being screwy again. A possible escape hole appears in the whatever-it-is, but Worf and Riker can't be beamed back onto the Enterprise until after the hole closes, then the mystery ship disappears.
A being, which looks like a giant, scary face, reveals itself. It has been experimenting on them the entire time. Its next experiments will kill a third or half of the crew. Picard (and Riker) decide it's best to destroy the ship and kill everyone rather than let the being conduct its experiments. Shockingly this decision does not lead to mutiny or any complaints. The being sends images of Troi and Data to talk Picard out of killing his entire crew, but he's wise to its game. The giant face says it was all a test and lets them go. Riker and Picard stop the auto-destruct with ten seconds to go and the scary face lets them go back into regular space.

Oh Captain, My Captain
In this episode we are told that Picard is brave man and a good Captain because he's willing to kill everyone under his command. That's what the episode says, and it never backs down from this position to examine any of the issues involved. It's likely that Picard believes he is giving his crew a quick, clean death rather than leaving them to the whims of a strange power, but this is never discussed.
There is no farewell speech to any of the crew, which seems a bit cold and out of character. You'd imagine Picard would go out speechifying.

Riker: Lover, Adventurer, Middle-management
Riker agrees with Picard's self-destruct decision because "It's better than standing around helplessly".
Is it though? Really? 50-70% of the crew are likely to survive and even if they can't take direct action they might be able to escape and warn others of the danger.
Riker talks through how long to set the auto-destruct, then decides on 20 minutes because it's a "nice round figure". Yeah, that's the way to make this decision. It should also be noted that no one seems to be given time off work to prepare for their impending deaths, which is a bit unfair.

Doctor Doctor
Pulaski wins much respect from me in this episode because while she is horrified by the potential loss of 30-50% of the crew, she is also the only person (the only person) who objects to Picard's kill-everyone plan. She points out that it's akin to curing someone by killing them, which seems apt.

Klingon Warrior
At the start of the episode Worf and Riker appear to be fighting ugly aliens on a jungle planet. Worf goes berserk and after killing opponents comes after Riker who has to yell "At ease, lieutenant" to stop the charging Klingon. Again we see the internal conflict between Klingon Warrior and Starfleet Officer. Worf's psyche is messed up.
When he and Riker are exploring the mysterious Federation ship Worf is angrily confused by the idea of there being two bridges on a ship, he gets a bit intense about it. When he discovers that going through a door brings him back into the same room again he really freaks out, clearly Worf should never play Portal.

Staff Meetings: 1
The key staff meet to discuss what to do about the impending death of 30-50% of the crew. They conclude there's nothing they can do so Picard and Riker decide that the best course of action is to kill everyone first, so Scary Face can't. Yeah, that'll show it.

Won't Somebody Think Of The Children?
Riker and Picard give everyone on board 20 minutes to prepare for their deaths, as it's clear Picard and Riker are upfront about the situation and their plan (and there are no mutinies). This includes the families and all the children. What do the parents tell their kids? Let's hope that in the 19 minutes and 50 seconds they were given to prepare for death no one slipped their loved ones the futuristic equivalent of a cyanide capsule.

Death by Space Misadventure
When Scary Face first appears it asks the usual curious-alien questions. When figuring out death it casually kills Haskell, a crew member on the Bridge (he was a black guy in a red shirt, he didn't stand a chance).
At least Haskell's death is treated seriously and is the basis for further action, not every deceased crewmember gets the same treatment.

The End
Convinced that Scary Face truly has let them go Picard and Riker halt the auto-destruct. The Bridge crew are still calmly working despite their impending deaths, apparently setting the auto-destruct is no reason to stop normal working patterns.
In his ready room Picard speaks to Scary Face who is still observing and has gathered much evidence. It concludes that as a species (though there are different species on board) the Enterprise crew are too different from it and much too aggressive. It says that they struggle against the inevitable. I wonder if it knows what that means, maybe it was watching a whole different ship, because what I saw was surrender to the inevitable.

30 November 2012

End of NaNo

I have a confession to make, I am stressed.
I didn't realise just how stressed I'd gotten until just over a week ago, when I had some time off work and fell apart a little bit. There are a lot changes happening at my workplace, I don't want to go into details, but things are getting to me.

Not wanting to overload myself I decided to take NaNoWriMo fairly casually and just see what happened. In many ways November was not the best month to do this as there were a few preexisting plans, some of them involving travel or hosting family members, which ate into writing time.

I managed 21,456 words which is just over a third, not bad considering I didn't give it the necessary time and energy.

I'm not sure if I'll do NaNo again. I think if I do I'll have to decide earlier and do more planning.

I did NaNo to get myself writing again and I think that has helped, so that's been positive.

22 November 2012

The Child

Episode: s2, ep1
This episode lacks tension and I didn’t really care about anything. Welcome to series 2 everyone!

What Happens
The Enterprise picks up a new doctor and goes to collect samples of a deadly plague that must be taken to a science base. Geordi has designed special containers to hold the samples. A sparkly light goes inside the ship and flies around until it finds Troi sleeping and slips under her covers. Picard finds the new Doctor in 10 Forward, she tells him that Troi is pregnant. In a staff meeting the senior crew discuss what Troi should do. The foetus is growing unnaturally rapidly, Troi gets overnight pregnancy-belly, but seems otherwise unhindered. Troi has the easiest birth ever (her makeup isn’t even smudged), and names her son-clone Ian Andrew, after her father.
Picard contacts the plague planet, the Inspector there wants to check the security arrangements and Picard wants to check the manifest. The tedious triple-checking takes ages. Picard visits Troi, her kid looks like a 4 year old. Picard seems unnerved, but if anything Ian seems normal and distinctly uncreepy. Meanwhile the plague samples take ages to sort out because even the safest could kill everyone on board. Eventually they’re transported into Geordi’s containers.
Next day Picard and Pulaski visit Troi and Ian (who now looks older still). It’s revealed that Picard has never played with puppies, which might explain a few things. Ian burns himself and cries, Pulaski thinks he did it on purpose. Picard wants to know why Ian is there, but it’s still too early for the kid to answer metaphysical questions. Troi thinks he knows but isn’t ready to tell them. Wesley and Guinan talk, he is tactless and she is helpful.
One of the plague specimens grows, which is really bad news. Data figures out that it's reacting to some kind of radiation, the cause is obviously Troi’s kid, but it takes the characters a while to realise. Ian knows he’s the problem, he tells Troi he must leave, Troi is upset. His body dissolves into sparkly light. The light flies into Troi’s hands then leaves. Troi now knows Ian was a curious life form who decided to understand them by living as one of them (no Jesus analogy explicitly is made).
The specimens are safely delivered, Troi isn't sad her kid is gone and Wesley asks the Captain to let him stay on the Enterprise.*

Oh Captain, My Captain
Picard displays a shocking lack of sensitivity. He gathers the senior staff, fails to introduce the new Doctor, and then bluntly tells everyone that Troi is pregnant, even though she’s clearly a bit embarrassed. He invites everyone to discuss what to do about the unknown life form breeding inside the Counsellor. It is clear that Picard has not asked Troi about this before calling the meeting. At no point does he ask for her opinion or offer her support in this strange situation, insensitive arse.

Riker: lover, adventurer, middle-management
Riker has a beard now. I’d gotten used to seeing Jonathan Frakes’s chin.
At the pregnancy staff meeting Riker is surprised by the news and asks Troi who the father is, not that it’s really his place to do so. After Troi explains that there’s no physical father (she was entered by a presence) Riker wants to know what’s gestating in there. He’s certain it was deliberate, but doesn’t agree with Worf that it’s a threat. He asks Pulaski if Troi would be harmed by an abortion. Riker, it is not your job to ask that! At no point does he ask for her opinion or offer her support in this strange situation, insensitive arse.
Later Riker lurks around at the birth, which seems weird to me.

Does Not Compute
Data takes Troi to sickbay when she goes into labour and offers to stand in as the father. Pulaski doesn’t think he should and dismisses him as just technology, but Troi asks him to stay. Data then fires questions at Troi until she points out that the birth is happening now.
Doctor Pulaski mispronounces Data’s name and is surprised that Data corrects her about it. She had been assuming he was just a robot-man, and wasn’t expecting bruised feelings, though she still doesn’t treat him as a person.

Wesley ‘for some reason’ Crusher
Wesley and Picard share a lift, Wesley stares at Picard awkwardly, so Picard explains to Wesley that his mother is away being head of Starfleet Medical. I’m sure Wesley already knows this, I smell infodumping. Or perhaps Picard just needed to break the weird silence. Wesley has mixed feeling about leaving the Enterprise. Personally I don’t understand why he didn’t leave with his mum.
Wesley hangs around 10 Forward and stares moodily out of the window so Guinan advises him to put his own feelings first. He tactlessly questions her about her past, “People say you're very old.” Luckily he is called away before he can say anything else incredibly rude.
Picard keeps calling Wesley Ensign, surely he’s still an acting-Ensign. Apparently there has been a collective decision to forget this. Meanwhile the actual Ensigns, who don’t get to fly the ship all the damn time, seethe and plot in the corridors.

Counsellor Pointless
I really feel for Troi in this episode. First she is mystically impregnated without her consent, and has to consult a Doctor she doesn't know. Then her boss drags her to a staff meeting about it, where her colleagues insensitively discuss her situation as though she isn’t there and doesn’t matter. From the way they act they might as well be discussing the engines. The fact that Troi is sat alone at the end of the table is isolating, and makes it clear that she and her baby are now just another problem to be solved. While the discussion rages about her Troi seems to hear the baby’s heartbeat (is this one of her powers?) and announces that she’s keeping it. No one contradicts her, which is the first good thing most of them have done this episode.
The pregnancy lasts about 2 days, and the birth is completely painless. The baby looks about 4 years old the next day and older the day after. Troi adjusts to this weird facsimile of motherhood, as does everyone else. The teacher says Ian has visibly grown in the time he’s been in puppy class** and treats it as though it’s normal. In fact Ian is happy and no trouble, he should be creepy, but he isn’t, he’s just dull.
When the two plotlines intersect, as it was long obvious they would do, Troi and Ian can sense the worry on the ship. Since Ian is a mystical alien child, and not just a supposed empath, he knows that he is the cause and leaves. Troi is distraught at losing her son-clone, but the shiny ball of light comforts her before it goes, so it’s all fine really.

Klingon Warrior
At the pregnancy staff meeting Worf immediately assumes Troi’s baby is a threat to the ship and suggests it is terminated and then analysed in lab.(Troi and Worf are going to date later, and I think we should remember this when that happens.) At no point does he ask for her opinion or offer her support in this strange situation, insensitive arse.
At the birth Worf bursts in with an all-male security team, because apparently all the female security personnel were busy. Worf, you are not making yourself look good here. At least they do what the Doctor says and stay out of the way.

Doctor Doctor
Doctor Pulaski seems fine, she’s capable and forthright and seemed to be sensibly advising Troi about her situation before Picard turned up and Captained at them. She doesn’t understand Data as a person, only a strange machine, which is kinda reasonable since she’s not met androids before. I don’t get any sense of warmth from her. I’m told she’s meant to be a female Bones, but I don’t really know Bones so I’m not that bothered about that. I think I'll miss Beverley, she was great.

Blind Engineering
Geordi is Chief Engineer now. No mention of what happened to the previous guy, but after the contretemps they had in Arsenal of Freedom I assume there was a bitter battle behind the scenes.
Geordi is responsible for the containment of the dangerous plague specimens. He has to work with a slightly belligerent Inspector. I appreciate that the samples are the main ‘peril’ in the episode (rather than the dull alien kid) but it's like watching people argue the semantics of Health and Safety. I cannot bring myself to care.

Guinan’s Hat - Purple
Guinan is not introduced, she’s just there, tending bar and giving advice. It’s her first episode and she convinces Wesley to stay, which is not an auspicious start in my view. Wesley quizzes her about being very old and knowing Picard before the Enterprise, which I'm assuming is foreshadowing.
I like Whoopi Goldberg (she’s God in the Muppet universe) and was somehow expecting more.

Staff Meetings: 3
1. Troi’s pregnancy is announced to senior staff, Pulaski briefs everyone and Picard invites discussion. The circumstances are troubling, but even so a massive amount of insensitivity is displayed.
2. Doctor Pulaski briefs Picard on the birth and how it was too easy. Is this really any of his business?
3. Wesley formally asks Picard if he can stay on the ship rather than being returned to his mother.

Won’t Somebody Think of the Children?
Riker suggests moving people to the saucer section when it looks like a deadly plague could be unleashed on board. Unfortunately there’s no sign that anyone follows up on his suggestion.

And They Never Spoke Of It Again
Troi has a mystery alien baby and yet experiences no pain (apart from getting briefly upset when he ‘dies’) and Pulaski says that you can’t even tell she was pregnant. So there’s no need to bring it up ever again.

In fairness I haven’t seen a lot of episodes, so I don’t know precisely what they never speak of again, but I have noticed a tendency to wrap events up tight so that there’s no need for issues to resurface in other episodes.

The End
After Wesley asks Picard if he can stay the Bridge crew jokingly discuss who will care for him. Data will see to his education. Worf offers to tuck him in at night (clearly a joke). Riker is asked to take care of everything else to do with growing up. It’s all very jovial and establishes that even though Dr Cusher has gone Wesley will be staying.*

* Can I change shows now and see what Dr Crusher is doing instead, please?
** There is an actual class where children play with puppies. I have no idea why. It's cute but pointless.

12 November 2012

Nano - Progress Report

It's nearly two weeks into November and so far I'm behind on word count.

I have been bad and entirely missed some days. Some of this was due to family visiting, some of it was me being a bit useless. On all but one of the days that I wrote I was above target, and some of those even made up for a couple of the missed days.
I'm told word count is meant to be the name of the game, but it's not entirely about that for me. It's about reminding myself that actually I do have time to write, and I do have the ability to write plenty. It's about getting out of a stupid slump that I don't have any proper explanation for.

Storywise things are mixed.
The main Nano project is a story featuring characters I initially came up with about 10 years ago, and who were there at a time in my life when I wasn't very happy with myself. Not that the original idea was angsty, it was something I used to escape angst and reality.
Maybe that's why I've come back to it now, I'm mostly fine with myself but not happy with my professional life, which takes up a large chunk of my time. In this version the characters are older (older than me) and their earlier adventures will be told as flashbacks. These bits are clear to me, I already wrote them once, and I'm seeing this as a chance to write only the good bits of the older story.
It's the current story, featuring the older versions of the characters that's giving me issues. I thought I knew what the plot was, but it turns out I only had the start of one (this is the second time I've done this recently and I'm concerned that I've somehow forgotten how plots are meant to work). The characters are strong in my mind, though I think they need to grow up a bit. The world is familiar and good enough for a first draft, somewhere I have loads of notes I made about it in my late-teens. However there are lots of conversations and not much doing, so I need to throw some problems at the situation and get people moving.
At least I've realised that's the problem, which is an important first step.

As for yesterday, well yesterday I my have cheated a bit by writing something else and counting the words. I have a short story with a deadline and I need to get that done, regardless of whether I'm doing Nano. As this is intended for the eyes of others in the not-too-distant future it actually needs to be good. I've been writing it more slowly, looking up relevant things online, making sure it fits together and makes sense. It's still a first draft, but it's one I feel fairly happy with. I only need to figure out one story element and then it'll be whole in my mind, if not yet on the page.

I've got some time off work coming up and I intend to use that to get back on track. Though even if I don't 'win' I still think it's good for me to have done this, to get back into a pattern of regularly putting words together for something besides this blog.

4 November 2012

Recent Reading

The Alchemist of Souls 
by Anne Lyle

I like me a bit of historical fantasy and was pleased to discover that this one is well-written and very entertaining. Elizabethan London is a popular setting, and here it felt authentic but also original as the author has taken a few (obvious and intentional) liberties with history. This is not a secret history with the supernatural pulling the strings behind the scenes (not that I have any problem with such stories, as you can tell from my attitude to the work of Tim Powers). In this book the New World proved to be home not just to other races of human but to a non-human, intelligent species called Skraylings. In post-Reformation England there are mixed attitudes to the Skraylings, their magical wares and mysterious ways. There are those who think them demons or fairies, while others see them as powerful and useful allies. Thrown into the middle of all this is our Hero Mal Catlyn, an impoverished gentleman who is appointed bodyguard to the Skrayling Ambassador.

It's the characters that really make this book such a joy to read. They're all rounded and fun to read about, each with their own perspective and voice, but I don;t want to give too much away. The relationships between them -both good and bad- feel genuine. Much of the action is set around a theatre company preparing for a competition, and it is in this environment that the characters are freer to pursue their desires than they would be in other parts of late-Tudor society.

The plot is well paced, with danger thrown at Mal and his friends fairly regularly as mysteries crop up and secrets are gradually revealed. There isn't a particular character who acts as an investigator, different things happen to each character, given the audience a wider (but still intriguing) picture of what's really going on. Conspiracies abound and at times it's hard to see how it'll all come together, though it does. Though a few are recruited to spy for different people, none of the main characters are naturals at intelligence work, often they seem to be people who've somehow gotten themselves in over their heads.
The Skraylings are interesting and not quite like anything I've read before, so I wasn't sure what to expect. The reader discovers more about them throughout the book, but there are still many questions at the end.

by China Mieville
 I've owned this book for over year but only recently remembered this fact.
This is a British urban fantasy and as such it has a lot of the hallmarks of the subgenre. An ignorant, mundane person is pulled into the shadowy hidden world of the supernatural that exists under/around/between the normal reality of London. There's a dangerous landscape of weird magic, warring gangs and factions, a knowledgeable guide/companion character and truly horrible killers. Having said that, these comparisons have only come to me now that I've stopped reading, at the time I was engrossed enough in the book that it didn't even occur to me to play Magic London Bingo (though one could get a pretty decent score).

There's an apocalyptic feel to this book, as different groups try to stave off or cause the/an apocalypse. The book is full of the feeling and discussion of end-times and the characters struggle against this even as it's clear that they (and the reader) don't really understand why or how the inevitability of the end of the world has come about. This is a book full of twists as the characters think they've discovered what it's all about, only to find that actually it's about something else entirely. This happens several times, some make more sense than others. Similarly character motivations seem to keep changing as veils of deceit are removed. Lines of enquiry are followed by officials, individuals and gangs, each has it's own logic (in a world governed by the power of metaphor) and the plot has been carefully put together to produce something very intricate. By the time you get to the last reveal the book has almost finished and you're surprised there's room for another one.

I enjoyed reading this book. I liked a lot of the ideas, which are very weird as one would expect from the author. The juxtaposition between the weird and the mundane really enhances the oddness of the supernatural world, though I'm sure it could have been odder. To me it felt weirder than the alien world of Embassytown, but didn't seem as strange as Perdido Street Station, though the latter contained a lot more focus on non-human characters. There were some great ideas and bizarre visuals mentioned and touched upon, at times in an offhanded way. The world was explored to an extent, but too much exploration would have become tangential, though it's clear that the author had a lot of interesting ideas.

29 October 2012


I will be doing the NaNoWriMo challenge this year, for the first time. 
I've known about it for years and have friends who do it, but I've never actually attempted it before. 

There are various things in my life that feel out of my control at the moment (many of them to do with work and my future plans in that area) and I think this feeling has leaked into other parts of my life, leading to doubt and a stupid malaise. I've decided that I need to remind myself what I'm capable of, I need to give myself a kick and I'm hoping this will be it.
I'm a bit excited at the moment, though I'm not sure how long that will last come November.

My husband is being wonderfully supportive by doing his own November challenge alongside me.

I don't plan to disappear entirely next month, but I won't be posting as much of the usual stuff. I'll try to keep track of my progress here, but don't intend to go on about Nano and nothing else.

I hope you will wish me luck, or at least not damn me to failure (you're nice folks, I'm sure you wouldn't).

21 October 2012

Recent Reading - and a bit of myth

The Assassin's Curse 
Cassandra Rose Clarke

 The Assassin's Curse in the first batch of books published by YA imprint Strange Chemistry, which is part of the Angry Robot imprint. Told in first person POV (as seems traditional in YA) it's about Ananna, daughter of a pirate captain, who escapes an arranged marriage and is chased by assassins for it. Due to a magical accident she ends up bound to an assassin, who must protect her from harm. They reluctantly travel together to find a way to break the curse.
The fantasy world is well drawn and not overly explained. Ananna is a great heroine, confident, brave, quick-witted and rather stubborn, she was born and raised in a world of thieves but has her own ideas of right and wrong. Seeing the world through her viewpoint means it's easy to be on her side, but it is also clear that her actions are foolish at times. The assassin is also a good character, proud, deadly and impatient he also has vulnerabilities, though these remain mostly mysterious. The interactions between the pair are beautifully done. The various characters they meet felt genuine and the situation is complex enough to absorb attention.
The story was a good one, the pace was brisk and events unfolded smoothly. I wanted to see more of the world and learn more about the characters and their adventures. My only complaint is that it ended too soon; in fact it's clear that the story has been cut in two. Weighing in at under 300 pages The Assassin's Curse is a shortish book, although that's not usual for YA. What confused me a bit is that the blurb on the back is clearly a description of the entire story, not just the half I have access to. At least one of the incidents mentioned on the back cover doesn't take place in this book, which is unusual I think. I read quickly but as I got closer to the end I realised that what approached wasn't an actual ending, just a pause in the story. I will definitely buy the next book, but just after I finished reading this one I felt as though I'd been promised more story than I actually got.

The Assassin's Curse is one of the books I bought at FantasyCon, in fact I bought it directly from the publisher, who was working the stall at the time. I only bought 5 books at FantasyCon, the other 15 or so me and my husband bought back from Brighton were all free, which is a sign of a good convention. This is how we discovered that our suitcase is not built to transport nearly 20 books, and how one of its wheels ended up disappearing somewhere on the hill between the seafront and Brighton train station.

The Song of Achilles
Madeline Miller

I don't tend to read books that have won mainstream prizes, often because there's not enough fantasy in them. However my husband bought this book for me because I love Ancient Greek mythology and it turns out this was an excellent choice on his part and contained more fantasy than I expected. It was an excellent and emotionally powerful read.
The novel is a retelling of the story of Greek hero Achilles, told from the point of view of Achilles' companion and lover Patroclus. According to legend Achilles was the son of human king Peleus and the sea goddess Thetis -whose son was destined to be greater than his father. This prophecy was the reason the Olympian gods (already plagued by inter-generational strife) married Thetis off to a mortal. In the book Achilles is destined to become the Best of Greeks and he will prove himself at Troy, the war that unites the squabbling Greek city-states. However the battlefields of Troy are also destined to be the site of his' demise. All the supernatural aspects of the story are kept (no wonder I liked it) with Thetis being a terrifying and unworldly presence in the book. Here we see powerful, alien, manipulative gods, not the melodramatic -if fun- squabbling family the Olympian gods are often shown as (and in fact were sometimes portrayed as such by the Ancient Greeks themselves).

The next bit of the review actually gets a bit long, since it's so tied up with a subject I love.

14 October 2012

Doctor Who - The Angels Take Manhatten

We come to the last of the pre-Christmas Doctor Who episodes. As a Brit I'm used to short series, however I am not used to things having weird gaps of several weeks/months in the middle* and I can't say I approve of this trend in Doctor Who the last couple of years.
I don't like that I'm uncertain about what season of  certain US shows I'm watching because there are odd gaps in the middle that seem to be there so that viewers have time to find something else do to and stop watching, in order for TV executives to then cancel the show because not enough people are watching anymore.**

Anyway, on with the episode.
In Rory and Amy's swansong we see that the couple have allowed the Doctor to take them on a trip across the Atlantic, but as it seems to be modern that is more or less a very convenient holiday and not necessarily at odds with their desire to live ordinary lives. Except that they have visited New York with the Doctor, so stuff is going to get complicated.

River is back and so are the angels. It occurs to me that though they are truly terrifying to an ordinary individual, and they're still creepy as hell in the way they hunt, for a time traveller they aren't as much of a problem. Yes Rory gets zapped back decades, but there's no doubt that the Doctor and Amy will go back to rescue him. Also if you've been travelling with the Doctor you've probably had to face the idea that you might be stranded somewhere in space and/or time, 1930s New York is a better option than most.

The use of River's detective novel as a guide and possible spoiler is clever. Reading the 'present' is helpful, reading ahead locks you in to certain actions. Is forewarned forearmed, or is it a kind of predestination? Although I wonder how the book got published (Amy must have some real pull in the past) as it surely wouldn't make a lot of sense to most readers, and the afterword is just perplexing.

The angels are as creepy as ever, and their babies are deeply unnerving too. The idea of the angel farm is interesting, it makes a sort of sense as long as you don't think too much about it. The Statue of Liberty being an angel looked impressive but was clearly empty spectacle. It's got to be one of the most looked-at things in New York, and if it starts booming along the streets of a very busy city, people will look and it will be rendered motionless. It was a nice idea, and the inverse of the end of Ghostbusters 2, it just didn't make sense within the context.

The goodbye worked emotionally. Due to the time turbulence and something about a paradox and fixed points, etc. etc. it feels pretty final. Amy makes her choice, she will risk getting sent back in the hopes of being with Rory. The afterword was a nice touch, linking Amy's last appearance with Amelia's first one.
Of course there's no reason that Rory and Amy have to stay in New York, and even if they do they'll eventually pass out of the bad time, so the Doctor theoretically could meet up with them again. This means that the ending is as much the Doctor's choice as Amy's, he knows he must move on and let them get on with the rest of their lives.

* Unless there is sport on, but that just gives me another reason to dislike sport.
** This version of how TV works in the US may well be wrong and is deduced largely from my own irritated observations.

4 October 2012

Films I Haven't Seen

I haven't seen a lot of films.
Sometimes you almost don't need to see the film. If it's popular enough then clips and quotes and pop cultural references can do the work for you. 

Saturday Night Fever
John Travolta is a groovy guy walking confidently down the street to Staying Alive by the Bee Gees. Later he goes to a disco (with an obligatory disco ball) in a sharp white suit. There's a lady in a red dress. It is presumably a Saturday night.

As far as I can tell from popular media this is what America looked like in the 1970s, except that there were also cars, afros and drug dealers.

Jerry Maguire
Tom Cruise plays the title character, who wears a suit. He shouts down the phone and asks someone to show him the money, he is very excited about this. Renee Zellweger and Cuba Gooding Jr are also there.
I have yet to ascertain whether anyone does in fact show him any money.

Citizen Kane
There is a citizen, his name is Kane, and there is something about newspapers. He holds a big conference with speeches and banners, it's probably political. A man with a moustache whispers "rosebud" and a snow globe is dropped, it turns out this is the answer.
I don't know what the question is, but I sense it is not about gardening.

Banjo music: di-di dee dee dee dee dee dee deeee, di-di dee dee dee dee dee dee deeee.
Something unpleasant happens out in the back country. (That's almost certainly a euphemism.)

I don't actually have any images associated with this film, as far as I know.

The Romans want the massed slaves to identify Spartacus. In a touching show of solidarity they all stand up and say "I'm Spartacus!"
Brain Blessed is not actually there, despite what youtube would have me believe.
My (considerable) knowledge of Romans suggests that many of those slaves were killed.
My knowledge of film suggests that's not the narrative they went with.

Breakfast at Tiffanys
Audrey Hepburn likes Tiffanys, which is a big shop. She has a long black dress, a long black cigarette holder, a sparkly tiara and a large string of pearls. She has breakfast, presumably at Tiffanys. A man is no doubt involved somehow.
Decades later the band Deep Blue Something would record a song examining how kinda liking this film is not really a basis for continuing a relationship gone sour.

3 October 2012

Doctor Who - Power of Three

I'm still behind with the Doctor Who posts, but I was at FantasyCon for 4 days so couldn't really post then. Besides it's been less than 2 weeks (in the UK anyway) so it's not a distant memory.
Plus it almost doesn't matter now as there'll be no more episodes until Christmas. I do not appreciate all these breaks. *pouts*

It turns out the title, Power of Three, was a big pun, which didn't get pointed out until the end, at which point I felt silly for not seeing it sooner. Various people seem a bit irked by this, but lord knows I'm no good at titles so if there's a pun that also works as the episode title you might as well go with that.

We know that Rory and Amy are in their final episodes and that something will soon happen that means they won't be traveling with the Doctor anymore. Power of Three looks at the normal lives of the Williamses the other stuff that happens when the Doctor isn't there. It's hard to physically see how long they've been travelling with the Doctor as the actors don't age that quickly, also judging time is a bit screwy if you're travelling through in.* I was a bit surprised to hear Amy say it had been 10 years, though hopefully that means the silly divorce stuff of a few weeks ago is long forgotten.

I liked the idea of the Doctor showing up in normal life and finding it dull. Usually when he does that the threat is active, but the cubes with their implacable dullness are a real test for the Doctor's patience. I can agree with the timescale of the episode, though I can understand why people say it felt rushed and could've been a 2-parter. Saying that I imagine a 2-part episode would've had a lot more filler.

The cubes themselves were a great idea, they're conveniently sized and very simple and since they're ubiquitous people will soon start ignoring them. The shots of all the places the cubes were used or ignored were great.Unfortunately things started to go downhill when the cubes' purpose was revealed. The information gathering made a lot of sense, doing your research is one of my top tips for invading an alien planet. I don't know who those aliens were or what they were doing or why. I don't get how the cubes were tied to people, or why they all did different things when they awoke. The creepy little girl and cube-faced twins were eerie and provided foreshadowing, but I'm honestly not sure what they were for. It seemed as though the aliens had done all that stuff and spent all that time just to give a third of the population heart attacks. Heart attacks that, as it improbably turned out, were actually reversible.

Now here is where the first aider in me gets twitchy.
I'll kind of accept that the Doctor magically manages to save the people with the very alien tech that was killing them, by somehow reversing heart failure. I'll even allow for the fact that the Doctor managed to resurrect people, even though by that time they would certainly be clinically dead** and perhaps brain dead, after all the cubes are tied to people somehow and mumblemumblemagicmumble.
What got to me was that no one seemed to be helping the people who fell down with heart failure. Two thirds of people were fine, and while they wouldn't all know first aid surely quite a few would have tried to help. In fact the UNIT woman said something about hospitals and paramedics not being enough, that the best hope for humanity was each other. After that I assumed there would be scenes of people trying to help others, of CPR and care, or at least attempts to comfort, there was nothing. It seems that was a meaningless throwaway line, which annoyed me.
Also Rory is a nurse, he knows how this works. It sounded as though he would have been more useful out there organising his colleagues to go and administer aid, or show others what to do.

As it turns out the real hero of this episode may have been Vinnie Jones, who wasn't even in it.

I feel compelled to add that you should pay attention to the bit where Vinnie tilts the guy's head back to check his breathing. Always tilt someone's head back first.

* Or in it? I don't know the proper wording for temporal stuff.
** You can recover from clinical death, as long as you're properly treated, but you have minutes before brain damage starts.

2 October 2012

Recent Reading

Fear not, I am still reading.
I know September was entirely blog posts about television, I didn't quite mean for that to happen. Doctor Who was on and I wanted to get series one of The Next Gen finished and really that's more blog posts than I've ever written in a single month so the books got squeezed out. Now I'm planning on getting back into my normal mixture of posts, and to start here's a quick rundown of some books I haven't mentioned yet.

Some Kind of Fairy Tale by Graham Joyce

This book is an excellent examination of what happens when someone returns from a long, unexplained absence. Tara returns to her parents and brother after a 20 year absence, though she insists that from her point of view only 6 months have passed. Her insistence that she was taken by an otherworldly man is met with scepticism and annoyance from her family, especially her brother (now married and a father of 4) who sends her to a psychiatrist. The story is told from the point of view of various characters, and explores not just what Tara claims happened to her, but also the current lives of her loved ones and how her return has changed them. It is a well-written book full of emotional depth and clarity, which subtly explores the ideas around supernatural abduction. This is a fantasy book that I would very happily recommend to non-genre readers as it taps into a familiar fairytale tradition and it's depiction of daily life is perhaps better realised than it's fantasy elements (which I'm sure is intentional).

Little Brother by Cory Doctorow

Told from the viewpoint of Marcus, a tech-savvy 17 year-old in San Francisco, this book is an exploration of computer security and official surveillance. Due to being in the wrong place at the wrong time Marcus and 3 of his friends are detained by Homeland Security after a terrorist attack. After his eventual release Marcus is incensed at his treatment, but knows he is being watched and feels he can't tell even his parents what happened. He starts up a secret network that counters the heavy-handed surveillance measures being set up around the city, and soon it spreads beyond his influence. The story is exciting and Marcus feels like a very authentic character, although the amount of local references adds to both characterisation and sense of place, a lot of them went over my head. The pace is rather slowed down by the regular digressions to explain how surveillance systems can be beaten, or how cryptography and networks function. Though these things are relevant to the story and often interesting as you're reading, I must confess that I don't remember many of them now. Then again I am over 21 so my brain is not as good at capturing info as that of the target audience (also the book itself pretty much says, being -just- over 25 means I'm basically a lost cause). While I can sympathise with the message that the author is conveying, there is no doubt this is a message book and one which is telling a whole load of information. I have recommended this book to teenagers, and I hope they get something out of it.

The World House by Guy Adams

It's an intriguing idea, a house in which nothing is as it seems and everything is dangerous and out to get you. People from places and times across the 20th and early 21st Centuries interact with the box and get dragged into a place they do not understand and must learn to survive or else die. The workings of the box and the house are explored in the early chapters, after which the established cast of characters make their way through the strangest house in existence. The characters feel rounded, though many aren't initially likeable, but it's easy to sympathise with them and the house certainly tests their mettle. It's clear that there's something else going on here, some agenda or pattern of events, though like the characters the reader is initially clueless. Not quite knowing what to expect I was a bit shocked by certain things in the book, but I can be easily shockable. After the main reveal it's clear that the author is being really rather clever and seeing events take their course is fascinating.

30 September 2012

The Neutral Zone

Episode: s1, ep 26

What Happens
While waiting for Picard to return from a conference* the Enterprise finds some centuries-old space transport from Earth. Data wants to look, and though no one else cares they let him go over with Worf (who probably doesn’t care either). They find cryogenic capsules, Data beams the three undamaged ones to sickbay. Picard returns and announces that they’re going to the neutral zone. Starbases in the area have been destroyed and the Federation fears the Romulans are involved. The Enterprise is being sent to investigate and re-establish relations.
Beverly tells Picard about the frozen people, who she has revived. Each had died from what is now a minor medical complaint. Picard does not appreciate Data bringing strays aboard. Worf is called in for when they wake up (because he and Data are simply the best crew members to be present when people from the 20th Century wake up). One was a housewife who died suddenly, one a country music star who badly damaged his body through excess, and the third a businessman who had a heart problem. It has been 370 years since these people died, so there’s a lot to explain and get used to.
Troi info dumps about the Romulans who are distantly related to Vulcans, they’re arrogant,** curious and aggressive. They’re fascinated by humans, despite having no contact with them for 50 years. Worf can’t contact any Federation bases, they may have been destroyed. Riker thinks the Romulans did it to provoke confrontation. Later the bases turn out not to be destroyed, but have entirely vanished.
The businessman uses the comms to bother Picard and unfavourably compares the Enterprise to the QE2. He’s ignorant yet arrogant, but eventually apologises as not knowing what’s going on is hard for him. Picard sends Troi to comfort the distraught woman and tells them not to get in the way of the ship’s business. The woman misses her family and didn’t ask for this. The country music guy is laid back and content to drink and see what happens next. The businessman can tell the crew are tense and wants to find out what’s going on. The ship goes to yellow alert as he wanders the corridors.
Our ship is bigger than yours.
The Romulans have improved their cloaking device and seems to test the Enterprise. The Romulan ship de-cloaks, it’s massive. The businessman gets to the bridge and Riker orders security to remove him, but the Romulans respond to hails and everyone besides Picard freezes. Romulan outposts have also been attacked, but they see that the Federation doesn’t have the necessary capabilities. The businessman points out that the Romulans don’t know what’s going on; they’re hoping the Federation knows. Picard suggests a one-time collaboration to find out what’s happening. The Romulans warn that they don’t like the Federation’s expansion, but they’re back now. The 20th Century people start to see how they might live now and are sent back to Earth on another ship.

Picard likes old stuff
Instead of being fascinated to learn about history from people who were there, Picard is mostly irritated by Data’s strays. The businessman makes himself unpopular by acting like he’s very important and bothering Picard while he’s doing vital work.

Does Not Compute
Data’s curiosity leads to these people being brought onboard and resurrected, otherwise they would have burned up in a star. Data seems to develop a relationship with the country singer. Each finds the other confusing, but their scenes are good ones with Data’s formality contrasted against the singer’s folksy familiarity. Plus the country singer seems wiser than the other two, he's happy to be alive and take advantage of what opportunities the situation brings, but is content to see what happens next and doesn't try to get involved in ship's business.

Counsellor Pointless
Troi helps the 20th Century woman to deal with loss, she never signed up for cryogenics and it’s a great shock to her. Using the computer Troi finds her descendants (who survived nuclear horror and various other Bad Things of the intervening centuries, as did their records).
The clueless, presumptuous 20th Century businessman manages to do Troi’s job in her absence by realising that the Romulans are bluffing to Picard. That’s right, the first time this guy has ever seen Romulans (and only the 2nd time he’s seen aliens) he’s able to tell what their motivation is better than any of the 24th Century natives on the Bridge. It’s not that the guy is empathic (in fact he seems fairly dismissive of feelings), but he is good at reading people. This suggests that emotional awareness is better in the 20th Century, which actually makes a lot of sense considering how restrained the characters seem to be. It also suggests that Troi's empathic, um, powers (I guess) aren't much to write home about.

There’s been barely a whisper of Romulans for over 50 years. Everything the Federation knows is based on rumour and Troi has to research what they’re like.
Except that there was this in Angel One:
  DATA: The border outpost reports a contingent of seven Romulan battlecruisers within sensor range. The USS Berlin has answered the distress call. However, should hostilities erupt, both the outpost and the starship will be out-gunned. It is felt that the Enterprise's presence in the area will be a vital show of force.
This isn’t part of the onscreen action and just seemed like a way od increasing the tension and putting a time limit on the action in the episode. Still I’m not sure that’s barely a whisper. 

Security Breach
Again we see that anyone can wander about the ship. Apparently the comms panels are so simple someone from nearly 400 years ago can use them and they aren’t locked. Picard claims this is because crew know not to use them for frivolous purposes, does this include the kids? It seems like comms should be restricted or secured after Wesley’s little trick simulating Picard’s voice in the Naked Now
He's not gonna manhandle himself.
When the businessman gets onto the bridge, with ease, and Riker orders security to take him away the 2 security guys don't do that. They grab hold of him, but then the Romulan ship comes onscreen and they stop what they're supposed to be doing to watch. I appreciate it's very interesting, but they were just given a direct order and both of them are ignoring it and letting a stranger stand on the Bridge during a crisis. He's allowed to stay on the Bridge making comments and interrupting a vital communication until Picard has a moment to repeat Riker's earlier order. Now maybe these guys don't like Riker, but they shouldn't let it affect their work like this.

Staff Meetings: 1
Picard briefs the key staff about the destroyed starbases and the mission to contact the Roumlans. 

Won’t Somebody Think of the Children?
The Enterprise is specifically sent to meet Romulans in what is hoped to be a diplomatic, but could be a military mission. Apparently Starfleet Command are fine with all the kids on board being put at risk on this dangerous mission. So perhaps Picard’s lack of concern is just following the party line. 

The End
It felt as though the episode should have ended when the Romulan ship de-cloaked. Or after the talk with the Romulans, when there’s a mystery to be investigated with untrustworthy allies. Instead the drama is sucked out of the ending because the episode doesn’t seem to know which storyline is B-plot and carefully concludes all the stuff with the 20th Century people after the exciting bit. It's not as though they don't know how to do this, the previous episode had an ending that worked well.
The last scene is a discussion about how the 20th Century people will get back to Earth, which deflates all the tension previously built up. Picard has to try and make it sound exciting by saying something about going forward, but he isn’t given much to work with.

* Is it anything to do with brainlice or shooting Admirals?
 ** So just like Vulcans then.

29 September 2012


Episode: s1, ep 25

What Happens
The Enterprise is going to Pacifica* on a science mission, though it sounds like it’ll be fun too. An emergency Captain-only message comes through and Picard takes it in his quarters whilst wearing his dressing gown. It’s from his friend Walker, who says there’s danger he’s unwilling to talk about, even on a secure channel. He requests they meet covertly in person (or as covertly as people can meet when they have to take 1000s of people with them). Picard takes the ship to an abandoned mining planet, there are to be no logs or messages about it. Picard meets with the Captains of the 3 other Federation ships. They believe there’s a threat to the Federation, Starfleet Command has been acting strangely. There are personnel movements and unexplained accidents. Top commanders are different now, and Walker is convinced his First Officer isn’t the same man anymore. He asks Picard to be vigilant and stay in touch discreetly.
Back on the Enterprise Picard talks to Troi and tells Data to monitor all the communications and orders issued by Starfleet in the last six months. There's a disturbance, which turns out to be spaceship debris from Walker’s ship. Now Picard is suspicious he tells Riker about Walker and the concerns previously raised by Admiral Quinn. Riker is sceptical, but Data finds unusual activity, hidden in the communications. Personnel are reshuffled and the new staff are in covert communication with the highest ranks. Data believes key areas of Federation territory are being held. It could be an invasion, but there’s no clue as to who’s doing it. Picard decides to go to Earth and ask questions, because that’s not suicidal.
What every businessman needs.
On Earth some Admirals are confused by the arrival of the Enterprise. Riker and Picard are invited to dine with them and Admiral Quinn says he wants a tour of the ship. Quinn arrives with a giant, purple woodlouse hidden in his briefcase. He doesn’t seem to remember what he said to Picard last time, so Picard tells Riker to keep an eye on him and see if Beverly can examine him. Quinn says something about a new lifeform, Riker questions this and Quinn fights him with great strength. Geordi and Worf arrive and the Admiral attacks, throwing Geordi through a door, then viciously defeating Worf. Beverly shoots him multiple times. In sickbay she says it’s definitely Quinn, but his strength is greatly increased. She finds something odd sticking out of his neck and discovers a purple brainlouse attached to his spine.
At Starfleet Command it’s strangely quiet and Picard goes to dinner with the Admirals and Remmick. Beverly contacts him and tells him about the parasite in Quinn and the neck spike. She advises shooting to kill but Picard points out he didn’t bring a weapon to dinner. Picard is served live maggots, which are eaten with relish by everyone else. He tries to leave but Riker arrives and pushes him back into the dining room. Riker has a spike in his neck and takes his seat at the table, along with the Admirals and one of the Captains Picard met with earlier. Before eating his maggots Riker pulls a phaser and starts shooting. 
In the fuss Picard grabs a weapon; him and Riker shoot and run. A purple brainlouse leaves the mouth of its host and they follow it down the corridor to Remmick. It crawls up into his mouth, he claims they only want peaceful coexistence and his neck bulges as the critters crawl around inside him. Picard and Riker take their sweet time before shooting but eventually his head explodes. Then a hole appears in his chest and a creature is in living in there. They shoot it until his torso explodes and a load of dead purple brainlice fall out. Quinn’s parasite is gone and he doesn’t die, which is hopefully the fate of all the other hosts. It’s lucky that the brainlice cannot survive without the mother-creature, hunting them all down would’ve taken ages.

Oh Captain, My Captain
Picard’s not good at politics, as he told Quinn when he refused to get involved in the conspiracy in Coming of Age, a decision that probably saved him. Picard’s instinct is to rashly rush right to Earth without a strategy, a plan Riker mentioned in mockery. He had no idea what he was up against, the only person he knows who did got his entire ship blown up. If they can arrange that in space, think what they should’ve been able to do on Earth.

Riker: lover, adventurer, middle-management
Riker is sceptical about the whole thing at first, but he’s very loyal and probably doesn’t like the idea of problems in Starfleet. It really takes guts for him to go disguised into the enemy lair with a weapon and a pretty sketchy plan.

Does Not Compute
Data is the best choice to analyse the records, he’s got a computer brain and he’s not going to jump to any conclusions. I’m surprised the brainlice didn’t try to take him out, he’s quite a threat.

Doctor Doctor
Beverly also knows Walker. Along with Picard he was one of Jack Crusher’s best friends and first introduced her to her husband.
When she repeatedly shoots the Admiral it’s kinda badass. By examining Quinn she learns what the parasites are, how to identify them and how they increase human strength. She’s the one who warns Picard and comes up with an infiltration plan for Riker. Though she does say if the creature dies the host will, which isn’t true later on.

Here is the conclusion to events in Coming of Age, it’s a shame all this gets rather painfully squashed into one episode. Thinking of the Changeling crisis in Deep Space 9 I see how interesting it could have been, but Star Trek wasn’t there yet in the 80s. The Next Generation didn’t do intrigue and political stuff. Despite the homing beacon cliffhanger I’m told this was never revisited. I suppose the audience at the time didn’t want that kind of show.

Creature Feature
The brainlice when we see them are gross, but also a pretty colour, and almost cute at times. It think it has something to do with the now-quaint-looking stop-motion way they move. 

The mother-thing is definitely gross and looks like a chestburster had a baby with a small dragon. The whole exploding head and exploding torso thing is pretty disgusting, and more horror-like than I generally expect from Star Trek.

Security Breach
Federation: The Federation suffers from the na├»ve assumption that anyone in a Starfleet uniform is trustworthy, which is presumably how the brainlice get such a hold on command staff. I imagine a stranger in a Starfleet uniform could go up to most senior officers and ask to show them an exciting new lifeform and that’d be that.
Plus there seems to be very little suspicion among the mid-level officers, meaning that orders are simply followed and not examined or questioned. Lets face it, the spacefaring part of the organisation is not built for secrecy, if Captains want to meet they have to take entire ships with them. The fact that Captain Scott (the fasted-promoted Captain in Starfleet history) was able to infiltrate Walker’s circle for the brainlice shows that suspicion does not come naturally to these people. I imagine that’s what happens when one is raised in a utopia.

Brainlice: The brainlice have a stupider issue, namely that they are the villains and therefore need to become less effective the closer the plot comes to resolution. These are creatures who have managed to place themselves within the upper echelons and rearrange large numbers of personnel without any outcry. They’re aware of their enemies and have successfully infiltrated the resistance, using it to deliver their enemies to them. Basically the brainlice are the new leaders, all hail the brainlice!
Except that the Enterprise comes to town, brimming plot-power, and from that point on the brainlice become idiots. It may be largely down to the Quinn-louse, who seems indiscreet and gets violent when faced with questions, even fairly innocuous ones. Since we know Quinn was compromised after Coming of Age, we could assume the Quinn-louse is a bit new to all this. Of course all the information uncovered by Crusher would still have come to nought if the brainlice had better security arrangements.
Like bees** it seems that once something is inside the hive the brainlice assume it’s harmless. They aren’t concerned about Picard and they think Riker is one of their own, even so there seems to be a distinct lack of guards or surveillance. Beverly is able to contact Picard while he's there and tell him all about what's going on and no one monitors the communication. Once the shooting starts, Picard and Riker are able to take out 4 of them a bit too quickly and easily. A louse leads them straight to Remmick, though it’s possible it can’t last long outside a host, so fair enough. Remmick makes sense as a host for the mother-thing, he’s less high-profile than the Admirals. However you’d think the mother-host would be kept out of the way, posted to a secure and guarded room, able to call many guards at the touch of a button. Apparently not. Though perhaps this was only meant to be a scouting party, a small detachment to soften the place up. Perhaps the homing beacon was the most important thing? It’d explain why the Remmick-thing didn’t seem worried about being cornered.

Staff Meetings: 4
1. Picard is told about conspiracy in Starfleet Command by Walker and 2 other Captains on the abandoned mining planet.***
2. Picard discusses what he was told with Troi, she thinks Walker was unreasonable.
3. Picard tells Riker about the conspiracy.
4. Data tells Picard and Riker what he has discovered.

Death by Space Misadventure
The entire crew of Walker’s ship, the Horatio, die in an explosion so bad there are no bodies. 
2 Admirals, 1 Captain, an unnamed yellowshirt and Remmick are shot by Picard and Riker.

The End
Riker explains the fake neck spike was Crusher’s idea, it had to fool everyone. They’re back on the Enterprise, so presumably aren’t being held over all the shooting. Data says he’s discovered what Remmick was sending. It was a homing beacon, sent from Earth to an unexplored sector. The episode ends on an ominous note.

* I’m sure you’ll be surprised to hear that Pacifica is an ocean world.
** I think it’s bees, I could be wrong.
*** Fred, Daphne, Velma, Scooby and Shaggy are due, but the Mystery Machine has issues travelling between star systems.